Monday, February 8, 2010

Put Full Text in your Feeds

If your organisation, group or blog has a news feed, think long and hard before deciding not to provide a full text copy of each entry.

News feeds syndicated with RSS are a powerful tool for any organisation or service with timely news to share. But when an organisation choses to truncate or poorly summarise the content in the feed, they erect a barrier between their news and their users' consumption of it. Users like syndicated news feeds because they allow news from a hundred or more different sources to be aggregated within one environment - their feed reader - and rapidly browsed and consumed with little friction. 

Asking users to leave this experience by not providing the full text of an entry makes the bet that your story is compelling enough for the user to actively seek out more information, and that you have communicated this to your audience. I believe many users simply pass on the story, or find another comparable news source with no such restriction. This is an opportunity lost.

You can imagine advertising supported websites wanting to draw traffic to their site for their advertising revenue. It is difficult to say for an outsider to say how effective this is, but some blogs (such as Google Operating System) have started sending advert inventory in the feeds themselves, along with the full text of the story. 

In many cases though is hard to understand why an organisation wants to drive traffic to their sites, when they most probably do really want is simple engagement with the people who subscribe to their news. 

The two examples that are currently bothering me are:
  • The Australian Government Media Releases feed, which shows only the first 100 words or more for each Media release. Unfortunately this is most often boilerplate text for each ministry, so it does nothing to provide any additional information beyond that provided in the story title. As this news feed is in fact a government service, there is no reason to not put the full text of the entry in the news feed.  It is public information.
  • The SOE Everquest II news feed. Gamers who like to adventure in dynamic worlds want to keep up with changes in the game, such as new items, events, adventuring zones and quests. The dynamic nature of the game is one of the core attractions that keep gamers paying money every month. The Everquest II team post monthly updates to their feed with boilerplate entry titles and text, rendering a subscription to their news less valuable. Is the SOE Everquest II team trying to drive traffic to the game site, or increase engagement with the game? It is hard to see how the news feed works for them. 
If you want your blog post, product news or branding message to reach people who will be interested, you should include the full text of the entry. Driving website traffic in most cases is not, and should not be, the primary objective. A full text news feed creates engagement; A truncated or poorly summarized news feed is often ineffective and sometimes, simply annoying. 

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